Education & the Importance of Open Discussion

I want to share this article. Given the irreducible importance of the role that libraries play in education and the promotion of open discussion in our society, I think the points elucidated here apply to us, as well.

Charles Negy, Professor, Says Students Showed ‘Religious Arrogance And Bigotry’ In A Letter Later Posted On Reddit (The Huffington Post, posted online on August 16, 2012)

While I may not be entirely comfortable with the professor’s focus on Christians and intolerance (I know many, many Christians who despise intolerance and close-mindedness; likewise, I know many close-minded and intolerant people from other religions) I deeply appreciate what he has to say about the absolute importance of open debate and critical thought.

One of the most effective and insidious accomplishments of the forces of intolerance in this country has been the vilification of eduction. There has been a powerful streak of anti-intellectualism building in our society for… let’s be honest, anti-intellectualism has been a defining characteristic of a huge swath of Western history. It’s been carefully stoked by certain extremists in our religious and political communities. There’s a very good reason why these people have worked so hard to instill a distrust of educated people:

Educated people tend to disagree with them. Educated people are taught critical thinking skills and are encouraged to question.

But these intolerant people depend on obedience in order to maintain their power within our political and religious institutions. Their primary method of control is through the propagation of fear, and misinformation is the best tool to generate it. Education – and the open debate it encourages – is profoundly dangerous to them.

Educated people easily recognize when someone is using logical fallacies and specious arguments. Educated people know when a statement made isn’t supported by the actual data. Educated people learn to be curious – and curiosity is anathema to fear.

And so the forces of intolerance did something very, very clever – they made higher education itself a thing to be distrusted. They convinced many people that education isn’t true learning – that it’s nothing more than indoctrination in the agenda of their opponents, and that so-called “educated” people have been brainwashed. This way, when someone who actually knows what they’re talking about speaks, people refuse to listen and feel completely righteous in closing their ears.

I believe powerfully in the role libraries play in promoting self-education and self-improvement. I believe powerfully in the role libraries play in providing a platform for open civic discourse. The intolerance that undermines our institutions of higher learning targets libraries, too. In a society where so many feel that education is a threat to righteousness, it can be a very dangerous thing to promote ourselves in our role as open educational institutions. But in this culture of intolerance and distrust, I believe that this role of ours is more important than ever.

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